There's a new Call of Duty game coming next month, but unlike Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, most fans of the series won't ever get a chance to play it. The game won't appear on store shelves, and it won't top the sales charts in America. In fact, a lot of gamers may never even know that the game exists.
Don't be fooled. Call of Duty Online is a big deal, and its exclusivity is precisely what makes the game so important. While gamers around the world have been enjoying Call of Duty for over a decade now, one major country's been left out of the fun: China. In America, most gamers have their own PC or console. In China, consoles were banned until 2013, and hardware is still prohibitively expensive for many users. As a result, much of the country's gaming happens in Internet cafes, where users pay an hourly fee and play games on a public PC.
Despite these cultural differences, China remains the world's biggest market, and Activision understandably wants in on the country's $6 billion gaming industry. To this end, they've teamed up with Tencent Holdings Limited to create Call of Duty Online, a game that caters specifically to the Internet café crowd.
Instead of a full retail release, Call of Duty Online is free-to-play first-person shooter that adds microtransactions to the series' acclaimed multiplayer. Making the game "free" offsets Internet cafés' hourly rates, while small fees for weapons, perks, and gear allow Activision to turn a profit. The game - based on the Modern Warfare series - has been in development for over two years; after a lengthy beta test, Call of Duty Online's official release is scheduled for January 11th, 2015.
To promote the title, Activision hired Chris Evans, one of Hollywood's biggest stars. In a brief fifteen-second commercial, Evans comes to the aid of besieged Chinese soldiers, bailing them out with a bazooka and a cocky American swagger. Evans also appears on Call of Duty Online's poster, posing heroically as buildings explode in the background.
At first, Evans seems like an odd choice. The actor is most famous for playing Captain America, arguably the most Western hero of all time, yet Call of Duty Online was designed specifically for Chinese gamers. However, on closer examination, the casting makes a certain kind of sense. By using Evans and all the baggage his name carries, Activision implies that this isn't just another free-to-play title or a regional reskinning of a well-known franchise; this is the authentic - and very American - Call of Duty, simply reconfigured to better fit the lifestyle of the average Chinese gamer.
Of course, there's another, more obvious implication behind Evans' casting, too. Call of Duty is known for its bombastic Hollywood-like action scenes, and the use of an international movie star in the promotional materials promises players an exciting, cinematic experience. That's the same approach Activision used when they released a Peter Berg-directed trailer for Advanced Warfare earlier this year. Call of Duty Online is poised to be one of the biggest games of 2015; if Activision plays their cards right, they could have a massive hit on their hands, even if most of the world will never know about it.
Call of Duty Online comes out on January 11, 2015 for PC. Currently, it's only scheduled for a Chinese release.